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OPINION | COLUMNIST: The Voter Whisperer

by LYNN SCHMIDT | August 16, 2021 at 2:00 a.m.

The Democratic Party has a real gem within its midst. It would do Democrats well to pay attention. That gem is U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina who, as majority whip, is the third-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives. He is also a retired educator.

When Democrats listen to Clyburn, they tend to win. Some call Clyburn a kingmaker. I prefer to think of him as the Voter Whisperer.

He almost single-handedly changed the trajectory of the 2020 presidential election after he endorsed then-candidate Joe Biden ahead of the South Carolina primary in February 2020. Following that endorsement and Biden's win in the South Carolina primary, the former vice president surged past Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and eventually won the Democratic nomination.

Clyburn's ability to understand an electorate and the power of his endorsement also became evident on Aug. 3 during a special election in Ohio's 11th Congressional District to replace Marcia Fudge. The election was between former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner and Cuyahoga County council member Shontel Brown.

Turner was backed by more progressive figures, including Sanders and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Missouri's own Cori Bush. Brown considers herself an ally of the president and supports Biden's agenda.

Clyburn got involved in the special election after Turner appeared onstage with rapper and activist Killer Mike at an economic town hall back in June. Turner agreed with Killer Mike when he called Clyburn "incredibly stupid" for backing Biden. Clyburn shared he had no plans to go to Cleveland or to get physically involved in the campaign until the Turner campaign invited him in. "That's the kind of BS that sent me to Cleveland," he said.

Clyburn endorsed Brown, went to Cleveland and campaigned with her. The progressive Turner lost to Brown by six points.

After the 2020 election, Clyburn was outspoken about how the "defund the police" slogan cost Democrats House seats. He said, "These headlines can kill a political effort," and shared more of his wisdom: "I want to make it very clear what I think is necessary for us to be successful in these elections, and I've made it very clear that all of this slogan headline-seeking doesn't do the future of our party or our country any good."

Clyburn knows that a majority of Democratic voters, center-left and some center-right independents, are looking for pragmatic problem-solvers and less for ideological purists. The progressive left may be outspoken on social media and popular with their constituents, but they do not seem to speak for the majority of Democratic voters, and Clyburn knows this.

He has an uncanny ability to read the American electorate and isn't shy about speaking out and getting involved. The Democrats should not only be grateful for his wisdom but heed his advice.

The Voter Whisperer has spoken. Democrats, if you want to win, listen to Jim.

Print Headline: The Voter Whisperer

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